Continuing our psychedelic storytelling and to further demonstrate how MUD\WTR supports the use of psychedelics for personal development, Senior Designer Ryan Rosenthal recounts his first experience drinking ayahuasca to Trends w/ Benefits … and the lessons he brought home with him. Ryan’s ayahuasca retreat was paid for, in part, by MUD\WTR from our annual retreat employee benefit.
As told to Andy Ritchie
I’ve dreamed of taking ayahuasca for at least 10 years. But it’s always been about the time and the place. I needed to wait and to figure out when it could fully align with everything else in my life.
Then, at the end of 2021, my best friend Jacob [Brighton, mud’s senior designer]’s mom passed. Jacob and I aren’t just co-designers at mud; we’re like brothers, so that was all too real. When that hit, it became imperative for me to begin acting on all of my bucket-list items, quite immediately. I wanted to face my fears as soon as possible.
Less than a week later, my then-girlfriend and I booked a pair of tickets to Peru and scheduled a ceremony.
The second I decided to go ahead, I Slacked Shane [Heath, founder and CEO] and Dersu [Rhodes, VP of brand] with a super-long, heartfelt message. I explained to them, “Working at this company, I see you guys as leaders both as men and minds, but also as being a supportive employer for me through this process. I’m about to go on a journey to Peru to drink Ayahuasca.” Of course, they responded cheerfully and excited for my new adventure.
Having MUD\WTR not just allow but enable this experience made me feel really liberated to go down there and do it. It felt like a rite of passage.
The Journey Begins
The day I was supposed to fly, it all started to go wrong. To travel to Peru you need to have a minimum of six months left on your passport, or they won’t even let you into the country. When I arrived at the airport, I discovered I had exactly five months left on mine.
So I had to call the Passport Embassy phone number tirelessly. They had appointments popping up every couple minutes, some in Colorado, some in Hawaii. I’m thinking, “Do I really have to book a flight right now for a passport?” Then, two minutes before they closed, I somehow managed to schedule an appointment in San Diego for 8 a.m. the next Monday morning. It was a miracle, but all that mattered was we were back on track.
At that point I thought, “Is ayahuasca telling me to quit? Am I not ready?” I started getting in my head about it. But it was my choice; a test to see if I’m willing to send it as far as I really want.
When I eventually arrived in Peru, I was nervous as shit. The ceremony was on a Friday, and the week before I had gone through the dieta, preparing my mind and body. When the ceremony came, I kept thinking that I would just walk in and it would begin. But realistically, they tune the vibe slowly but surely.
In the ceremony itself, it’s a circle of multiple levels, with paintings of Ganesha, sacred geometry and all these other powerful images surrounding you. As people were gathering, I could tell there was a real tension in the room. Then, the shaman walked in. He was this younger, enthusiastic, buoyant guy. Not the 60-year-old wizard you’d expect.
The shaman briefed everyone in Spanish, then his counterpart to the right translated to English. They talked about posture, how to receive the medicine, what to do if times get tough. It kind of felt like a guidebook for the deep dive.
Soon, they turned off all the lights, lit a candle in the middle of the room, and individually, we walked up to the shaman for our first cup.
At the beginning, it felt … funny. Intimidating, powerful, but held a grin of excitement. We were asked to bless the cup of ayahuasca through sound. Then, I sat there, giving my full attention to the cup. We were encouraged to ask ourselves what we’re doing this for, similar to how you would do in yoga. I’ve been there before, but not with so much pressure.
I dedicated the cup to my mom and dad. Then I drank the cup and sat back down.
The Medicine Kicks In
The shaman instructed that the ceremony wouldn’t begin until after the medicine had started to take effect. Thirty minutes after each of us had taken a sip, sat back down to meditate in pure darkness and silence, it all started to happen.
Slowly but surely, I started hearing some groans, some puking, some uncomfortable noises from around the room. Then, the shaman began the Icaros. These are the songs that guide the ayahuasca. As he’s doing this, he’s reading the room, channeling all of the energy that he believes should be in the room through song.
I should say, this guy is an absolute wizard. He was playing the handpan, with a flute and a drum, and his English-speaking counterpart was on guitar. It sounded like there were 18 musicians in the room—but there were two.
The medicine started kicking in, the visions started picking up, and it went from zero to 100 really damn quick. One minute, I was seeing patterns, then the next, I put out my hand and it literally became one with the entire room. I couldn’t differentiate my identity at one point, everything became the seamless One, visually and conceptually.
The metaphor they use with ayahuasca is like peeling the onion:
Layer one was “I am Ryan at MUD\WTR.”
Layer two was “I am Ryan Rosenthal from California.”
Layer three was “I’m a guy.”
Layer four was “I’m consciousness.”
As the layers peeled back, I got to the single point where only my mind existed. But it was this beautiful, tranquil, freeing experience; it wasn’t scary. When you hear the story of ayahuasca, it’s natural to be intimidated. But honestly, it was this beautiful unlocking feeling of knowing that without any identity attached to me, I still existed. I felt really connected to the universe, in the most non-cheesy way ever.
Through this whole experience, I was still hearing all the uncomfortable sounds around the room. The shaman—still drinking multiple cups of ayahuasca—continued playing instruments all through the night.
The ceremony began at 8 p.m. the medicine peaked an hour later, and I thought “Is this going to last forever?” At one point, I went to the bathroom with my girlfriend and saw eight versions of her: four versions of her past self and four versions of her future self, fanned out like a quantum accordion.
Through all of that, and losing your ego in so many ways, you end up building it back up and feeling out who you are, again and again. It’s like fully wiping the lenses of your own perception. It felt so cool to be able to see myself through a new lens, in a new light and with a new, fuller understanding of who I am and what my values are. You can read a book and learn about consciousness. But when you experience it in the fullest regard with every cell in your body, that’s something else.
Integration and Reflection
After the ceremony, it felt like I was in a room with family; it felt like everyone had been to war. When you come out the other side, the amount of empathy you have for yourself, for others, for people that you’ve never even met, is astounding. I was turning to people saying, “I love you. I love you. I don’t even know your name, but I see you.”
When the ceremony was over, my ex and I took off back to our little Airbnb. We sat there in silence, stunned, thinking, “What the fuck just happened?”
It took me a week or two to actually unpack it all. It was like the craziest dream I’ve ever had, seeing worlds I’ve never seen before. In Peru, they regard the upper level of consciousness as the Condor—the Spirit Realm. The Lower Realm is the Serpent, then the Middle Realm is the Puma. And I don’t know whether it’s the chicken or the egg, but all of Peru is decked out in these three animals. Ayahuasca was showing me those animals frequently. There were interlocking snakes going in and out of each other. It’s this kind of thing that helps you begin to understand: There are many, many worlds here that we don’t have access to. You can experience unlimited love, affinity and beauty, and ultimately, it’s all inside every one of us.
Ultimately, what guided me through having such a beautiful experience was continuous surrender. In that ceremony, I surrendered to the experience at least 400 times. And I mean full-bodied exhalations of “OK, I SURRENDER.” I hear horror stories of people trying to fight it. That’s not the way through it—ayahuasca will always win. Just accept it from the beginning. If you’re holding onto too much, you’ll have a bumpy ride.
Life after Aya
How did my life change when I returned home? That’s tricky. For one, I naturally began falling back into old habits and patterns of thought. But what it at least gave me was a blank slate of how I want to approach my life.
Before ayahuasca, I would wrap up work for the day, put on Netflix, melt into the couch and not let my brain be intellectually challenged. After Peru, all I wanted to do was read a book or dive into more knowledge. It gave me an understanding of who I can be, rather than who I was molded into by societal pressures, by my parents, by my judgments of myself. I feel like I’m in the driver’s seat now. Ayahuasca didn’t necessarily change my entire existence, but it changed who was in control of my life.
Not long after the ceremony, my girlfriend and I split up. When I was dealing with that break up, a lot of the little nuggets of wisdom ayahuasca taught me helped guide me through.
I wrote down so many little sayings after the ceremony:
“Slow down to speed up.”
“Dance with discomfort, don’t fight it.”
These little things are tuning my perception of how I can live on Earth.
Back in the Office
In the past, when I would be stressed out with work, that one difficult task would become giant. In my head, it became a skyscraper. Me designing a new account portal? A new website? Oh my god, it was life or death.
Ayahuasca showed me that, yes, these things are important, but ultimately, this is a human experience and you are much more than a human operating on a laptop. You are this sentient being capable of so much, so don’t stress too much about the perception of things being too stressful. Ultimately, it’s a subjective state. Objectively, you can view it stoically and realize that most of the troubles we create are in our own mind. Diffuse the troubles, diffuse the stress.
The experience has helped me tap into that deep, creative essence of why we’re all here anyway. You skip the ego, skip the bullshit. It’s a practice, it doesn’t happen every single day, but ayahuasca got me at least 100 steps closer to the future of who I want to be.
Ryan Rosenthal is a senior designer at MUD\WTR.
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